New clouded leopard species discovered in Borneo
New cat species discovered in Borneo
March 14, 2007
Scientists have declared that the clouded leopard found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra is an entirely new species of cat, genetically distinct from the clouded leopard that lives in mainland southeast Asia.
“Genetic research results clearly indicate that the clouded leopards of Borneo and Sumatra should be considered a separate species,” said Dr Stephen O’Brien, Head of the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, U.S. National Cancer Institute. “DNA tests highlighted around 40 differences between the two species.”
The scientists say that the two species of clouded leopard appear to have diverged about 1.4 million years ago. They also note that the results of the genetic study are supported by separate research on geographical variation in the coat color of the clouded leopard.
“The moment we started comparing the skins of the mainland clouded leopard and the leopard found on Borneo and Sumatra, it was clear we were comparing two different species,” said Dr Andrew Kitchener, from the Department of Natural Sciences, National Museums Scotland and lead author of the Current Biology paper that described the new species. “It’s incredible that no one has ever noticed these differences.”
Bornean clouded leopard. Photo courtesy of WWF.
WWF, an environmental group that has been particularly active in conservation efforts in the region, reports that the island clouded leopard species is “is generally darker than the mainland species, has small cloud markings, many distinct spots within the cloud markings, grayer fur, and a double dorsal stripe.” The species is the largest predator in Borneo and the second largest, after the Sumatran tiger, on Sumatra.
“The fact that Borneo’s top predator is now considered a separate species further emphasizes the uniqueness of the island and the importance of conserving the Heart of Borneo,” said Adam Tomasek, head of WWF’s Borneo and Sumatra program.
WWF estimates that there are between 5,000 and 11,000 clouded leopard on the island of Borneo and 3,000 to 7,000 on Sumatra. The elusive species is threatened by habitat destruction and poaching for its fur. Further, in some parts of Asia it is served in upscale restaurants as a delicacy. It is listed as “Vulnerable” on the 2006 IUCN Red List.
Rainforests in Borneo and Sumatra have been heavily logged over the past 20 years and are today highly threatened by clearing for oil palm plantations. In an effort to slow deforestation, last month ministers of the three Bornean governments — Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia — agreed to conserve a large area in the center of Borneo, sometimes termed “The Heart of Borneo.”
This article is based on a news release from WWF and previous mongabay.com articles.